Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Chocolate Galas not withstanding, sometimes we just need a little Comfort Food. While the exact types and recipes can vary from sweet to salty, savory to spice, I think it’s probably more the memory or emotion a particular food evokes that is most meaningful.

For instance, back in the Dark Ages after I attended the morning session of kindergarten (yes, it was just half days back then!), Mother would often fix a grilled cheese sandwich for my lunch. White bread, with just enough butter to brown the bread, but not enough to make it soggy, American or Velveeta cheese, all nicely toasted in a cast-iron skillet.  Mmmm! This is still one of my favorite sandwiches, especially when paired with tomato or chicken noodle soup. Not the chicken soup from a can, mind you, but the Lipton kind from the packet with the little skinny noodles. Isn’t it funny to be so picky about such a simple thing as chicken noodle soup? Stir up a beaten egg with a little salt and pepper and add enough flour to make a thick paste, then drop tiny dumplings from the tip of a teaspoon into the simmering broth . . . oh my. That’s comfort food.

Another basic meal on the list is poached eggs on toast. Last weekend, while visiting Daddy, we had this for breakfast on Sunday. I told him how I recalled this as being one of the things Mother might make for me if I had to stay home from school due to sickness. Was it the protein she thought I needed?  The comparable blandness that would go easy on my stomach? The soft texture of the damp toast and the smooth egg that wouldn’t irritate a sore throat? The answer eludes me, but the memory remains, just like the times Dad would warm up milk in a pan on the stove and drizzle in some honey, stirring until it dissolved, and serve it in steaming mugs. That, too, was comfort food.

Custard pie and homemade ice cream make me think of my Grandpa Charlie and his siblings. Chinese food reminds me of my sister and her husband, because the first time I met him (before they were even engaged!) he took us to an excellent Chinese buffet for lunch in Tulsa. Chicken mole, first prepared for me by my dear sister-in-law, has become a favorite, and I never order it without thinking of her and my brother. And how can I possibly look at barbeque beef brisket without a fond remembrance of my Uncle Stan and cousin Dan, or see smoked salmon and not call to mind cousin Greg?

So, now it’s your turn. Leave a comment, if you will, and share your favorite comfort food, and why.  Then, get comfortable!

Henny Penny

Henny Penny

During twenty years of having laying hens on the farm, only twice have I encountered the issue of an overgrown top beak. When my late husband Larry kept pigeons (Pensom rollers – show birds), it was not unusual for the upper portions of their beaks to grow long and lap over the edge of their lower beaks, but this might have been due to the fact that they were not allowed outside to forage and peck around in the gravel. The chickens here, however, are outside almost daily. That’s why I was a bit surprised to notice this hen one day last week.

Chickens kept in a coop or pen with at least a partial concrete floor, or that have some exposure to graveled areas, have ready abrasives to help keep the fingernail-type material of their beaks in trim. As they hunt and peck for seeds, bugs, worms and greens, the frequent scrapings of their rigid mouth material against the surrounding rocks seems to prevent the problem of overgrowth. Exactly how the hen got into this condition, I don’t know. Perhaps she’s a delicate eater. Regardless, with a top beak that long, she would soon be having a problem being able to eat at all, and a little careful pruning was in order.

After doing chores at the barn, I picked up the troubled bird and brought her down the hill to the house. She graciously posed for photos before the procedure, and sat fairly still in my lap as I used nail clippers to remove most of the excess material from her upper beak. Not having a metal nail file to hand, the coarse side of an emery board was employed for the final shaping and smoothing, and then a few “after” pictures were taken for comparison. Bless her heart, this little hen didn’t even doodle on me. What a gal!

Since the Ordeal, I have read that some folks put a cement block or a piece of sandstone in their chicken pens to provide the birds with a tool to prevent this problem. The enclosed pen outside my coop has an older concrete floor with several rough areas, so you’d think that would suffice. Who knows? If not for that, I might be trimming beaks right and left. While it would be a small price to pay for all the nice fresh eggs they provide and the bugs they eat, I’m putting a landscape block or something like it onto my shopping list for the next time I’m in town.  Just in case!

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Pecking Order

Pecking Order

Bird watching is a hobby that demands so little for what we can reap in return.  This time of year I try to pay more attention than ever to the little cedar feeders that are suspended from the overhang of my front porch roof, keeping them stocked with a steady supply of food for the wild birds. When the landscape looks barren and brown, I figure the birdies can use a little extra help in the meal prep department, and their antics can be pretty entertaining.  As I am sitting here typing this, I can glance out the windows to my left and see sparrows, chickadees, cardinals and snowbirds (a.k.a. dark-eyed juncos), all jockeying for position at the buffet stations provided for them.  Now and then a bluejay shows up and tries to convince them all he’s the Boss, but they all get their fair share eventually.

On decent days–meaning it’s not raining and there’s little or no snow on the ground–I let the chickens and guineas out of their pen to forage, even in winter.  Of course, they have grain in the feeders inside their coop every day, but by nature they love to roam around the yard, hunting and scratching for tasty tidbits.  I figure happy hens lay healthy eggs, and it makes a noticeable difference in the feed bill when they’re able to get out and about.  Recently a couple of the younger Highland Brown hens have occasionally found their way onto the front porch, where they clean up the loose seeds that have been scattered by the wild birds during the day. After tossing that freshly killed rat snake (see prior post “Unwanted Gifts”) onto the top of the concrete steps after measuring it, and then finishing my phone call inside, I returned to the porch with the intention of removing the thing to the ditch, only to find it halfway down the throat of a brave little hen already, and another hen running up to see just what sort of big fat worm her friend had found.  The chickens have a pecking order amongst themselves, with Rojo the Rooster as the obvious ruler.  Even the guineas don’t challenge him!  IMG_2551

While the farm cats and the barnyard fowl all coexist with no squabbles, the cats most definitely have an unwritten hierarchy.  Last summer a new tom cat wandered in from somewhere, and the whole balance went Kablooey.  Sammy, the youngest of my bunch, began challenging the newcomer to fights, even though Sam and all the other kitties here have been “fixed”.  Seeing Sammy getting the stuffing knocked out of him, Wally jumped into the fray, and the next thing you know I’m doctoring wounds on two cats, and trying to decide whether to run off the stranger or try taming him, so I can get him to the vet for neutering.  It’s taken a while, but finally the last few weeks I’ve been able to pet the new guy (now named Louie), and can pick him up and carry him around with no problems.  He’s not as aggressive toward the other cats, and has learned to keep his distance from Mary Alex (the Queen of the Outdoor Cat Community, just ask her!)  IMG_2403

Of the three inside the house, Tripod Jack wants to think he is Top Cat.  Once in a while, the older gal Pepper has to put him in his place when he gets a little too rambunctious in his play.  They both have their bluff in on poor Sugar Baby, who won’t stand up for herself, no matter how many times I tell her to give it a try.  They’ve all been together for years, with Jack being the youngest at seven.  And yet, it was just this past November that I was finally able to capture them all in one photo.  Bet you can guess which one is Jack.

It’s the same routine with the horses in the pasture.  Since there isn’t a stallion in the herd, one of the older mares seems to think she’s in charge.  Even Bindi the Very Good Dog has recently taken to putting on airs a bit, since I adopted a bird dog, Jethro Bone-dean, from the shelter in town.  All in all, it turns into quite a show.  It’s no wonder that I haven’t watched a soap opera in years!

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How’s Pickins?

How’s Pickins?

Growing up in the suburbs, I was fascinated with the flocks of laying hens kept by my aunties who lived in the country.  Going out to the chicken house with a basket or bowl for the eggs was a privilege that never lost its charm.  Even now that I’ve had my own birds for many years, it’s still a bit of a treasure hunt to gather the fresh eggs each day.  But even beyond that benefit, there’s just something wonderful about having a flock of my own.

Presently, I have nine hens, one rooster, seven guineas, and one lone pigeon.  (The pigeon is another story altogether!) This particular group of chickens were gifted to me when my friend Dave D. was moving out-of-state and wanted them to have a good home. The barnyard birds love to patrol the lawn, hunting and pecking for tempting tidbits of bugs and greens.  It keeps them happy and healthy and cuts back on the feed bill to allow them this pleasure.  It also provides me with a sense of peace and well-being to see them out there, meandering about, scratching the surface with their feet now and then in search of something tasty.

In the spirit of tradition, the rooster is called “Rojo”, (that’s pronounced ro-ho), which is Spanish for “red”.  My Uncle R. had a rooster by that name.  Why the hens belonged to Aunt K and the rooster was said to be Uncle’s property, I haven’t yet figured out, but it may have had something to do with the original Rojo’s demeanor.  As in, he couldn’t have gotten much meaner.  (The rooster, not my uncle).  As kids, we were afraid of Rojo.  On our way out the back door, we’d grab either a broom, a bucket of water, or a poor unsuspecting cat, and if the ol’ buzzard–er, rooster–was nearby, one of us would deploy whatever item of self-defense we’d picked up by hurling it at him, whereupon we’d take off running before he could peck our feet or legs, both of which were usually bare all summer.  Sometimes this worked better than others.  I would swear that bird hid, barely beyond the corner of the house, just waiting for us to exit.  He never bothered Uncle, though.  Maybe he knew he couldn’t peck through the tough leather cowboy boots and blue jeans, and didn’t waste his efforts in the attempt.

By contrast, however, my own Rojo is neither vicious nor vindictive.  He will come a-runnin’ if one of his hens utters any kind of distress call, and he’s not what you might call a snuggler, but he’s gentle enough as roosters go.  I like to watch him navigate the yard with his “girls”.  I’ve fed them long enough that when I go outside, they all hurry to gather ’round me, just to see if I’ve brought them anything special from the house, which sorta makes me feel guilty when I don’t.  Which reminds me . . . I gotta go shred some cabbage.  It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind!

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